How Sen. Ron Johnson is Shaping the Debate Over Net Neutrality

Right Wisconsin
Collin Roth
November 17, 2014

Ron Johnson
The political fight over net neutrality ramped up last week when President Obama, hardly chastened by a big mid-term defeat, urged the members of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to “implement the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality.” In a nutshell, President Obama’s request is to regulate the internet under Title II of the Telecommunications Act; and to paraphrase Vice President Joe Biden, ‘this is a big f***in deal.’
Admittedly, the arguments for net neutrality can sound sensible. The idea of “fast lanes” implemented by internet service providers to websites willing to pay is enough to outrage anyone who has ever been frustrated by a slow-loading page or video. And advocates of net neutrality are making their case with a very smart, savvy, and accessible messaging campaign that uses everything from cartoons to porn stars.
There are seemingly three fronts that free market opponents of net neutrality need to fight on and make their case.
First, net neutrality is a big government solution in search of a problem. There is simply no compelling case to regulate the internet after years of significant freedom. The last two decades have seen unpredictable growth, innovation, and expansion all without government regulation.
Second, President Obama’s desire to regulate the internet under Title II of the Telecommunications Act would essentially classify the internet like a public utility. FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai suggested that Title II regulation would result in “less deployment, less innovation, and less competition” along with “higher broadband prices for customers.”
Thirdly, the debate over something as substantial as the regulation of the internet needs to take place in Congress by the elected representatives, not an unelected commission.
Interestingly enough, this is where Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin comes in.
Johnson and a handful of Republican Senators have actually been out front on the issue of net neutrality, urging the Congress to update the Telecommunications Act to promote competition, shun regulations, and prevent one of the most important functions of our society and economy from falling under antiquated rules and regulations determined by an unelected panel of commissioners. You just wouldn’t ever know it if you pay attention to the mainstream media in Wisconsin.
In February, Sens. Ron Johnson, Dean Heller (R-NV), and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) published an op-ed in the The Hill making the case against greater regulation of the internet and for an update to the Telecommunications Act.
“…a freer marketplace, not more regulation, promotes innovation and competition, and innovation and competition empower consumers by increasing the choices they have, be it for voice services, video content or the next breakthrough application.
Unfortunately, some would still have people believe that the only way to provide real consumer choice is to have the federal government dictating how consumers are offered services and what those services might be. This approach is born from the mindset that regulations beget innovation and that bureaucrats in the government, not entrepreneurship, create competition.
Instead of employing a knee-jerk regulatory prescription, the principle that should guide the debate over updating our communications laws is to empower consumers by promoting robust competition in the broad Internet sphere.
This approach would encourage new participants, not limit them. It would reward innovation and drive more investment in content and infrastructure, creating jobs and economic growth. It would also ensure consumers are adequately protected from demonstrated market failures, rather than hypothetical ones.
The discussion to update the next generation of telecommunications laws has begun, and it is full of possibilities for our constituents. We owe them an honest debate that recognizes the competitive realities of today, and we can foster that competition by wiping away regulatory lanes, not reinforcing them.”
It cannot be overstated how important steering the debate away from the FCC and towards the Congress would be. If the FCC takes the unilateral approach to net neutrality as urged by President Obama, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai made this troubling prediction:
If the Commission goes down the path of public utility regulation, we will devote countless resources to deciding which of the hundreds of pages of Title II regulations will apply to broadband service. We will embroil ourselves in years of litigation in the courts. And we will provoke a knock-down-drag-out fight with Congress.
The end result will be years of regulatory uncertainty, serious damage to our nation’s broadband market, and a weakened FCC. These consequences in many ways are unimaginable.
It may not be as sexy as tax reform or repealing Obamacare; but advocates of the free market need to become well versed in the battle over net neutrality. There is more at stake than most realize.